pfja-main-banner.png
Dec. 8, 2020 by Laurie Ristino

Democracy Is Fragile. Help Us Protect It.

Editor’s note: This post is part of the Center for Progressive Reform’s Policy for a Just America initiative. Learn more on CPR's website.

At long last, we’ve reached “safe harbor” day, when states must resolve election-related disputes. Under federal law, Congress must count votes from states that meet today’s deadline. Donald Trump is essentially out of time to steal a second term; our democracy, it appears, will survive, at least for now.

Like many of you, I’ve been thinking a lot about the election — and what Trump’s relentless efforts to undermine it mean for our country. I’ve been thinking about the last one, too, when Trump took the helm of our country after a campaign of lies and hate — even though he received nearly 3 million fewer votes than his opponent.

I’ve been reflecting on other moments when our democracy seemed in peril, historic events locked in time and place because they define time and place. These “flashbulb memories” remind me that democracy is not as secure as I wish it were.

In March of 1981, I was training with my high school track team. The weather was stormy, so, our coach …

Nov. 4, 2020 by Laurie Ristino
voting-01-wide.jpg

American democracy, if it is to mean anything, demands that all eligible voters get to exercise their right to vote and that their votes actually be counted. We have watched with alarm as the former principle has come under unilateral attack from one political party for self-serving reasons in recent weeks. We are outraged to see the president attack the latter.

CPR is committed to meaningful public participation in all of America’s democratic institutions. We believe such participation is essential for ensuring more just and effective policies, but also for imbuing those policies with legitimacy and public confidence. Public participation is critical to empowering all Americans to have their say in our centuries-long project of forming a more perfect union.

As of early this afternoon, the presidential election is still undecided. Millions of votes in states that will ultimately determine the outcome remain uncounted. We join …

April 15, 2020 by Laurie Ristino
farmworkers-ca-strawberry-field-wide.jpg

Americans are experiencing a tidal wave of food insecurity related to the coronavirus pandemic. Historic unemployment claims and surging demand at food banks are laying bare the precarious circumstances of many of our citizens and the inadequacy of our social safety net. We can learn from the coronavirus epidemic--and we must in order to prevent human suffering in the future. Taking stock and then reforming our policies should start now while legislative momentum is possible--not after the country has moved past the apex of the disease.

In a recent episode of the podcast, Good Law/Bad Law, I joined host Aaron Freiwald to discuss the vital connection between the 2018 Farm Bill, the pandemic, and the startling food insecurity so many Americans are now facing. Along the way, we touched on how the current crisis is a harbinger of future food insecurity given climate change and growing …

Aug. 15, 2019 by Laurie Ristino
farm01-wide.jpg

This op-ed was originally published in The Hill.

special report released on Aug. 8 by the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change shines a stark light on how agriculture is both uniquely impacted by and a key driver of climate change, contributing up to 37 percent of total greenhouse gas emissions. The report highlights the pressing need to reverse land degradation and forest conversion caused by food, feed and fiber production, as well as the significant climate mitigation opportunities of shifting to plant-based diets, especially in wealthy countries like ours.

The United States depends on its vast agricultural and forest lands for a host of amenities, including food, fiber, clean water — and mitigating climate change. These working lands, many of which are already degraded, are under unprecedented stress from rising temperatures and extreme weather. We need a climate plan for agriculture.

* * *

As it stands, agriculture …

March 12, 2019 by Laurie Ristino
USCapitol_wide.JPG

The Democratic majority in the U.S. House of Representatives has a weighty agenda – from policy reform to oversight of the Trump administration. Given all that the House Democrats have on their plate, urging them to restore policy rationality by making the support of science-based policy central to their strategy might seem like a prosaic ask, but it's critically important.  

Without science as the lodestar for government policymaking, anything goes, which is exactly the problem. As the Union of Concerned Scientists documented in a recent report, the Trump administration has been marginalizing science and isolating federal scientists for the past two years. Trump appointees have systematically undercut the science-based policies and regulations forged to protect human health and the environment. This has opened the door to irrational policymaking aimed at benefiting the industries and special interests to which these appointees are linked.

The bipartisan design of our …

Nov. 16, 2018 by Laurie Ristino
WorkerSafetyCollage_wide.jpg

The midterm elections are over, and most of the races have been decided. The outcome will have consequences for a wide variety of policies and legislation, including the 2018 Farm Bill. So what's the status of the bill? What are its prospects for passage during what remains of the 115th Congress? And how will the current and near-future political landscape impact the legislation's conservation provisions?

To answer these questions and more, I moderated a recent Center for Progressive Reform webinar with Ferd Hoefner of the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, Caroline Kitchens of the R Street Institute, and Alix Murdoch of American Forests. While we all agreed that it's encouraging that the House and Senate conference committee is still working on the legislation, the discouraging news is that much remains to be resolved in the jam-packed lame-duck session.

Some of the major differences between the House and Senate …

Sept. 20, 2018 by Laurie Ristino
usda-bldg-wide.jpg

Donald Trump has, in a sense, made good on his promise to "drain" Washington, D.C. – but not in the way many people probably thought he would. The exodus from our nation's capital has been made up of the scientists, diplomats, and policy experts that a democracy needs to function, not the high-powered, special interest lobbyists voters likely had in mind. Meanwhile, a raft of grifters has gleefully taken a temporary perch in the executive branch. The ensuing debacles, scandals, and assaults on safeguards and agencies have made it stunningly clear how critical a competent, public interest-focused executive branch is to our country's well-being.

One recent example of Trump's war on federal agencies is Department of Agriculture (USDA) Secretary Sonny Perdue's surprise announcement last month that he planned to reorganize the Economic Research Service (ERS), an independent economic research agency. Perdue's announcement was a shock to ERS …

July 23, 2018 by Laurie Ristino
farm-redbarn-wisc-wide.jpg

Scott Pruitt's narcissistic reign as EPA Administrator consumed advocates' collective energies, and rightfully so. It was a drama that recently ended – not via Trump tweet, but by old-fashioned resignation. Alas, this victory's potential downside is that the new guy at EPA, Andrew Wheeler, may be more effective at dismantling environmental protections than Pruitt was because Wheeler actually understands how bureaucracy works.

Then, of course, came the orchestrated events surrounding Justice Kennedy's retirement and President Trump's pick to fill the vacancy, thrusting Brett Kavanaugh to center stage. Environmental protection (among other issues) seems imperiled as the Court is poised to take a hard "right" turn if Kavanaugh is confirmed. 

But as we continue to keep a vigilant eye on EPA and the future trajectory of the Supreme Court, let's not forget weighty environmental legislation currently making its way through Congress: the 2018 Farm Bill. 

Yes, you read that …

April 25, 2018 by Laurie Ristino
lemon-squeezer-wide.jpg

Last week, the House Agriculture Committee passed a pock-marked, micro-legislated Farm Bill along strict party lines. It's a shameful goody bag of legislative delights for a few that comes at the expense of the majority of the American people. 

Some lowlights: The bill holds our hungriest Americans hostage by conditioning SNAP benefits (food stamps) on job training (what kind of country withholds food from its citizens?); reduces conservation dollars that are critically needed given the pitiful state of soil health and our waterways; and provides commodity supports to producers who are wealthy and don't need the help. 

Fortunately, unlike the old days, Americans are starting to pay attention to the Farm Bill. Given the opaque and highly consolidated nature of our food system, people are increasingly concerned about how and where their food is produced. And for good reason. The United States is plagued by …

March 13, 2018 by Laurie Ristino
Chicken_house_wikicommons_wide.jpg

Who doesn't want to breathe clean air?

Unfortunately, a "bipartisan" bill now working its way through the Senate would undermine our ability to address a growing source of air pollution – livestock operations. The so-called Fair Agriculture Reporting Method Act (S. 2421), or the "FARM Act," would amend the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA), better known as the Superfund law, to exempt agricultural producers from reporting toxic air emissions. The bill's clever name is a misnomer: it lets livestock producers stop reporting emissions altogether. Its passage would seriously undermine our ability to address a growing pollution problem that disproportionately impacts rural communities and socially disadvantaged Americans.

To understand how the FARM Act came about, we have to go back 20 years. That's when the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) realized that it had insufficient emissions data from animal feeding operations (AFOs) – industrial-style farming …

CPR HOMEPAGE
More on CPR's Work & Scholars.
Dec. 8, 2020

Democracy Is Fragile. Help Us Protect It.

Nov. 4, 2020

CPR Urges Vote Count to Continue Free from Political Interference

April 15, 2020

Food Insecurity and the Pandemic

Aug. 15, 2019

The Hill Op-ed: We Need a Climate Plan for Agriculture

March 12, 2019

Can the House Save Science from the Trump Purge?

Nov. 16, 2018

Farm Bill 2018 -- Where Are We Going Post-Midterms?

Sept. 20, 2018

Draining Washington of Science and Talent